Sophia’s #CBR5 Review #65: Life After Life by Kate Atkinson

Life After Life“What if we had a chance to do it again and again, until we finally did get it right? Wouldn’t that be wonderful?”

Life After Life (2013) by Kate Atkinson is another book that I heard about through Cannonball. The reviews were positive enough to draw me in, although the premise reminded me of Groundhog Day and I worried how the book would work without becoming tedious. I shouldn’t have worried. The above quote isn’t an accurate depiction of what occurs, and I found a surprisingly thought-provoking and moving story instead.

Ursula Todd was born in a village in England in 1910. She immediately dies, choked by the umbilical cord. And she is born again. This continues throughout the book as different versions and variations of Ursula’s life are examined through her coming of age and two world wars.

Continued…

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Arya of Winterfell’s #CBRV Review #16: Kate Atkinson’s Life After Life

life after lifeI’m not sure if Life After Life fits in with the “pink cover” class of novels.  I borrowed this novel, KOBO and all, from the friend who chose it for book club and I’ve viewed the cover, as such, in black and white.  Pink cover or not, the cute fox and the light description my friend gave left me with an expectation of a fun read, something playful and within the realm of magic.  From what I understood of the premise, I was expecting a romp like Groundhog Day.  I don’t consider this a spoiler alert, just an alert for anyone else with similar misconceptions as me when I first “opened the cover”, but Kate Atkinson’s Life After Life is wrenching.  In retrospect, I’ve thought ofThe Time Traveller’s Wife with the hallmark non-linear experience of time and Pan’s Labyrinth and reminded myself that stories rich with mystic and magical elements are not necessarily free from serious and dark themes and moods.

Read more: http://acbrv.wordpress.com/2013/12/01/wrenching-wartime-drama/

Even Stevens’s #CBR5 review #20: Life After Life by Kate Atkinson

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On February 11, 1910 a blizzard snows in the house at Fox Corner, where Sylvie is giving birth to a baby girl, Ursula, who dies before she can take her first breath.

On February 11, 1910, a blizzard snows in the house at Fox Corner, and Dr. Fellowes makes it in the nick of time to deliver Sylvie’s healthy baby girl, Ursula.

This is how Ursula Todd’s life begins, a duality from the start. For Ursula, life and death, or death and life, are intertwined. Ursula suffers several deaths, and each time she dies she is reborn and able to change the course of events in her life. Some are happy, some are heartbreaking, some are lonely, but each one is richly detailed and riveting.

Let’s get this out of the way right now: anyone looking for a time traveling thriller should look elsewhere; this is Ursula’s story, where her ability to resurrect (one of which she is unaware of, she merely feels a commanding presence of déjà vu when she comes back) is part of the strange and complicated background of the Todd family. The family themselves are an odd and compelling bunch; Sylvie is prim and sometimes snobbish, Hugh is a loving, doting father. Ursula’s siblings Pammy, Maurice, Teddy, and Jimmy are as opposite as can be but each has their own place in family and Ursula’s life.

I purposely avoided reading any advanced reviews about this book because the premise was so unique, I thought it best to go in blind, and I’m glad I did. I think having no pre-conceived notions of what this book would be really helped the experience and I was sucked into Ursula’s surreal and ever-changing world. I was captivated by how different a person’s path can be (or how remarkably similar) by changing just a few details in life. I was rooting for Ursula and wanted only the best for her; sometimes she gets it, sometimes she doesn’t.

This book reminded me of a Choose Your Own Adventure type of book (maybe with a little Sliding Doors thrown in), but with more substance and depth.  I read (after I finished) reviews that complained that her rebirth bled out any narrative tension, but I disagree. In fact, I think it adds tension because the rules are never explained to us; it’s as much a mystery to us as it is to Ursula, and you never know if the next death Ursula experiences will be the final one.  I loved Atkinson’s writing; through Ursula she showed her love of literature and words, and that’s something I can get behind no matter what the subject matter.

There is one aspect of the book I didn’t really like, I do have to say. This isn’t really a spoiler, as the book opens with a chapter that strongly insinuates what adult Ursula is up to. But if, like me, you don’t want to be spoiled at all, go ahead and skip this paragraph.  So, moving forward with the part I really didn’t like: Ursula’s story is set against WWII, which is fine and great and I think it gave each member of the family an even greater depth. However, we learn in the first chapter that Ursula grows up and shoots Hitler. Yup, that Hitler. Atkinson does a fairly good job of paving a believable path to get to that point, but it just seems unnecessary. There are so many interesting characters and situations and backdrops that it kind of seems thrown in as a sensational afterthought. It plays a minor part, so it certainly doesn’t ruin the book, but I think leaving it out would have strengthened the book.

Overall, this was a fascinating book, one that kept me engrossed and wanting to know what happened next to the Todd family. I loved Atkinson’s writing and the characters she created and if you’re open to strange but interesting storylines, I would definitely recommend giving this one a go.

sonk’s #CBR5 Review #47: When Will There Be Good News? by Kate Atkinson

When Will There Be Good News? is the third in the Jackson Brodie series (although I’m reading it last) and was definitely my favorite of the four. Atkinson likes to take seemingly disparate storylines and weave them together, to show how lives overlap in unexpected ways, and that can often get unwieldy and be unsatisfying for the reader, as she creates these connections with varying degrees of success. This was by far the most cohesive of the series, and it worked better than any of the others for that reason.

As always, it’s difficult to discuss a mystery without giving much away. To give a basic plot summary: Jackson Brodie finds himself, once again, at the center of a web of mystery and violence after his involvement in a deadly and devastating train crash. His life is saved by Reggie, an orphaned sixteen-year-old, who has her own problems to deal with: Dr. Hunter, her beloved employer, has gone missing, and no one seems to care. Also involved is Louise Monroe, who played a large role in the previous book; she’s trying to keep tabs on two murderers, while dealing with her less-than-satisfying new marriage–and her lingering feelings for Jackson.

Read the rest of my review here.

sonk’s #CBRV Reviews #39-43

Catching up on reviews again! Below are the links to reviews #39 through #43.

#39: The Magician’s Nephew by C.S. Lewis (3 stars)

The first in the Narnia series, the world-building prequel that sets the stage for The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe and the rest of the books.

#40: Tampa by Alissa Nutting (3 stars)

The disturbing story of Celeste, a young and beautiful schoolteacher who is–just below the surface–a sociopath and pedophile obsessed with prepubescent boys.

#41: The Orchid Thief by Susan Orlean (4 stars)

A look into the bizarre, beautiful world of orchids, and the people who love them.

#42: One Good Turn by Kate Atkinson (4 stars)

The second book in the Jackson Brodie series.

#43: This is How You Lose Her by Junot Diaz (4 stars)

A collection of interconnected short stories dealing with love and loss in the life of Yunior, a young Hispanic man.

alwaysanswerb’s #CBR5 Review 48: Life After Life by Kate Atkinson

Goodreads summary: “On a cold and snowy night in 1910, Ursula Todd is born, the third child of a wealthy English banker and his wife. Sadly, she dies before she can draw her first breath. On that same cold and snowy night, Ursula Todd is born, lets out a lusty wail, and embarks upon a life that will be, to say the least, unusual. For as she grows, she also dies, repeatedly, in any number of ways. Clearly history (and Kate Atkinson) have plans for her: In Ursula rests nothing less than the fate of civilization.”

Life After Life is a fascinating conceptual novel, the potential of which I am not sure was ever fully realized. In many ways, it comes across as a refurbished and more bombastic “Groundhog Day”: more historically captivating (WWII setting) and with the chance to observe Ursula Todd throughout her life as opposed to on just one day, we feel like there is more at stake, but the same basic conceit of being able to re-do your life until you get it right applies.

Ursula, here, doesn’t exactly know that she is re-living her life. She does have premonitions and sometimes strong feelings that she needs to take some kind of decisive action in order to prevent something that feels instinctively bad, which is a clever choice by the author because it keeps the novel grounded in reality despite the somewhat fantastical premise. By connecting Ursula’s “multiple lives” to her intuition and a sense of deja vu, rather than an exact knowledge that she has lived that life before, Atkinson plays on the reader’s questions about life and existence — what does it mean when we get deja vu or that intangible, yet powerful, feeling that something is amiss?

There are some parts of this novel that are extremely difficult to read. I don’t want to get into specifics as they will probably constitute spoilers, but some versions of Ursula’s life are depressing, and others are deeply uncomfortable in different ways. There is one specific version that I found to be incredibly problematic, but again, I can’t really discuss it without giving away a major event. What I will try to say, as cryptically as possible, is that in a story like this, there is the implication that Urusla, or whatever protagonist, is responsible for the outcome by the choices they make. There are some outcomes here that Ursula had absolutely zero control over, but the way the narrative develops suggests that she did, and I found those particular threads to be kind of presumptuous at best and offensive at worst.

Otherwise, the overall story was very engaging and the prose lyrical and tight. It was sometimes hard to tell when one life was ending and a new one beginning, but there is a pattern to the chapters to help make it more clear. At the end, despite being harrowing at times and problematic at others, I really enjoyed this book and would recommend it. I have seen some reviews with proclamations that this book may be some kind of manual or have a moral message; I wouldn’t go that far. When you look at the choices that led Ursula to her happiest life, they weren’t necessarily the most enlightened or selfless, but they did make the most sense. Maybe that’s what the message is, then: have some common sense.

Jen K’s #CBR5 Review #75: Life After Life by Kate Atkinson

When I first heard about the concept behind the novel, I was intrigued. It sounded slightly similar to Replay to me, but in the case of Replay, the protagonist relives his life from certain points of time, and remembers everything every single time. Ursula, this novel’s main character, does not remember her past lives, and each time she dies, her life starts over from the beginning (sometimes the reader goes all the way back to the beginning with her, other times Atkinson only takes the reader to the relevant decision point in that life). While she does not remember her past lives, she does get bad feelings and develops a bit of deja vu that prevents her from making the same decisions. For example, one of her deaths is the result of her falling off a roof in pursuit of a toy tossed out the window. When she finds herself in the same scenario again, she looks out the window, gets a bit scared, and leaves the toy outside. She basically knows enough to avoid her life going the same way as before. In one instance, she is also portrayed as believing the rumors of Nazi Germany fairly early on – she has a sense of things or an inkling but no actual real factual knowledge that follows her from one life to the other.

Full review.